Dropping into a waterless but snow-covered riverbed, the Hill Descent Control managed the plunge nicely and the Compass’ 20.6-degree approach and 32.2-degree departure angles (on Off-Road models) kept the nose and tail out of the dirt. Crawling through the mud and snow and over watermelon-sized rocks, the locked-up CVT did an impressive cog transmission impression, never letting go of that 19:1 ratio. The larger 17-inch wheels and all-terrain tire package handled obstacles with surprising ease, and the skidplates took care of whatever the suspension (or driver) missed. Deep snow, steep, muddy hillsides, and larger obstacles occasionally halted forward progress, but the proper application of speed and/or maneuvering got the Compass through.

On pavement, the Compass was a pleasant piece of transportation. It feels about as quick as the average compact sedan and handles like a tall car. Improvements to the suspension and steering mean reasonably flat cornering and a pleasant ride. The CVT is smooth, reacts quickly to throttle inputs, and moves the Compass around nicely, though using manual mode typically resulted in rather abrupt shifts. The 2.4-liter engine is rather coarse, but it gets the job done, and we’d rather take the small fuel-economy hit and keep the Off-Road ability than switch to the 2.0. Besides the engine, noise in the passenger compartment is well dampened.

Taken together, both the on- and off-road updates to the Compass make it a reasonable improvement over the old model. There’s still some work to be done inside, and to be fair, the trails we traversed didn’t require winching or giant tires. At the same time, they were considerably more challenging than anything the average Compass owner is likely to attempt, leaving a nice buffer for more adventurous owners. No, it’s no luxurious Grand Cherokee or unstoppable Wrangler, but the Compass isn’t a joke anymore, either.

Base price $19,995
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door, SUV
Engines 2.0L/158-hp/141 lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4; 2.4L/172-hp/165 lb-ft/DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmissions continuously variable auto, continuously variable auto with low range
Curb weight 3100-3150 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 103.7 in
Length x width x height 173.4 x 69.3 x 65.2 in
0-60 mph 9.5 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 20-23 / 23-28 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.78-0.91 lb/mile
On sale in U.S. Currently